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Fact Check — Can Zuma stand for election if he has a criminal record?

Fact Check — Can Zuma stand for election if he has a criminal record?
Illustrative image | Former South African president Jacob Zuma. (Photos: Ihsaan Haffejee / AFP | Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

Given that former president Jacob Zuma has a criminal record, can he stand for the MK Party in the 2024 elections?

All parties contesting the general elections in South Africa in May 2024 were required to submit a list of their party candidates to the Electoral Commission by Friday, 8 March 2024.

It has been reported that the MK Party’s number-one candidate on its list is former president Jacob Zuma.

But a lot of people are asking: Is this actually legally permissible, given that Zuma has a criminal record?

The issue was raised with the IEC in January 2024, just a few weeks after the MK Party was formed. On that occasion, the IEC told Durban newspaper the Daily News unequivocally that Zuma could not stand for election.

Read more in Daily Maverick: MK party ‘will go to court’ if IEC bars Zuma from contesting elections

The commission explained that this was on the basis of Section 47 of the Constitution, which stipulates that you cannot be elected to Parliament if you have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to 12 months or more in prison. You only become eligible again five years after the end of the sentence.

Zuma’s failure to cooperate with the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture earned him a contempt of court conviction in July 2021, and he was sentenced to 15 months in prison. 

The fact that Zuma ended up serving fewer than two months behind bars is irrelevant. It is the sentence length that counts. 

Five years after the end of Zuma’s sentence would take him to October 2027 as the earliest date at which he could stand for election.

As a result, the IEC told the Daily News in January: “Therefore, this provision renders former president JG Zuma disqualified to be on the list of any party contesting an election.”

Fast forward two months, however, and the MK Party has seemingly ignored this prohibition and led its party list with Zuma – unsurprisingly, since he is by far the biggest and most popular name in the party.

So, what happens now?

The IEC is now vetting all the candidates on party lists. 

The commission has said candidates still have until 20 March 2024 to submit necessary documentation, including “a declaration by a candidate that they are not disqualified from standing for election”.

It is unclear how Zuma intends to overcome this hurdle, given his criminal record.

Then, on 26 and 27 March, the IEC will open the lists of candidates for inspection and people can raise objections to the candidacy of nominated individuals. A candidate who is ruled out of contesting the elections can then appeal to the Electoral Court.

In the past, the IEC has upheld objections to candidates with criminal records and barred them from appearing on party lists. 

In short, the law seems perfectly clear on this: Zuma cannot legally head the MK Party list because he cannot stand for election to the National Assembly.

What is likely brewing, however, is a big headache for the IEC. 

The MK Party has made threats of violence against the IEC if Zuma is not permitted to stand. 

The party’s other big idea is that if it wins a two-thirds majority in the election, it will change the Constitution to allow Zuma to become South Africa’s president for a third term. 

We have previously dealt with this: There is no chance that the MK Party, or any other party, will win a two-thirds majority in this election. 

There is also little doubt that Zuma is its only major political asset – so the prospect of contesting the elections without Zuma as a candidate is something the MK Party is undoubtedly going to push back on. 

But the IEC simply has to apply the law – to Zuma as to every other prospective candidate. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Casey Ryder says:

    Why is this a headache for the IEC? Solely because of the MK Party threatening violence. The longer that is tolerated, the bigger the headache becomes.

  • Troy Marshall says:

    Answer seems obvious. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to join and head the MK Party.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    Could that scoundrel Carl Niehaus not lead the ‘party’ party … he has all the credentials after all !

  • Jucy Malema says:

    Well then, i hope they get violent. That way police can retaliate

  • Deon Botha-Richards says:

    Is the contempt charge actually criminal? It arises from a civil case

    • Albert Berman says:

      It was not a civil case, it was a criminal case. It is not legally possible to get sentenced to serve jail time in a civil case.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    It’s absolutely not a headache in any legal sense. And if the scum threatening violence carry it out, deal with them appropriately. All of them.

  • Miss Jellybean says:

    It’s time we all stopped giving into the threats of violence by Zuma supporters. Maybe the police should start actually applying the law to these thugs when they try becoming violent. A well aimed water cannon would be a good deterrent and make it easier to arrest the rubble rousers

  • Jabu Mhlanga says:

    There we are again, the pursuit of power at all costs.

  • Charles Butcher says:

    Only 5 years after he has served his prison sentence can he stand for office, this was in 2021 soooo NOOOOO he is barred

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    Crickey – and there was me thinking a criminal record was a pre-requisite for public office in this country.

  • Bob Fraser says:

    Bob – March 26th 2024 at 05:24
    Can’t understand how and why Zuma avoided serving time in jail. Still feel that justice in South Africa favours the ruling elite. If Zuma is banned from standing for election and MK riot it’s to be hoped that the erstwhile ministers of police and defence will quickly take action to totally destroy Zuma and MK

  • Kleinste Janse van Rensburg says:

    The ruling that Jacob Zuma can stand as a candidate in the elections, notwithstanding being found guilty of contempt of court, is a clear indication that the judges in our criminal justice system have been captured. The longer we post pone handing clear ethical judgements in terms of our Constitution, the higher our crime rate will grow and the faster our slide as a country into oblivion and disrespect.
    Threats of violence, if you do not get your individual way, are an indication of people who disregard the rule of law and the rights of a just society.

  • Pikes Cooper says:

    Our legislation has collapsed. Zuma is above the law.

  • nduvheni says:

    This judgement confused the South African us. It seems the only man is allowed to do whatever he wants when it suits him. A person who is convicted, disrespect the courts and constitution of the country. More than 20 years dodging to go to court and answers his arms deal case. Electrol court judgement has something to answer to the people of this country which law are they applying that contradict the convicted person for more than 12 months cannot be a parliamentarian. Something not right.

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